February 25, 2004 – Margaret Cohen: “The Craft of the Sea”

Wednesday, February 25 / 4:30PM / Oakes Mural Room


Margaret Cohen is Professor of French and Italian at Stanford University, having come from New York University in 2003. She is a scholar of critical theory and of the novel, whose books include Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution (California, 1993) and the prizewinning The Sentimental Education of the Novel (Princeton, 1999), as well as several edited volumes. Her talk is from her current book project, The Romance of the Sea, which is a study of how the history and representation of open ocean travel informed the development of the modern novel. About her talk, she writes,

Across the range of diverse genres (narratives of discovery, exploration and warfare, manuals of practical seamanship, shipwreck narratives, imaginary voyage narratives, novels), writing about seamanship constitutes one of the most sustained reflections in the Western tradition on the labor process, distilling a kind of hands-on practical reason that differs markedly from the contemplative reason of philosophers or the objective knowledge of scientists, more like the metis of Odysseus, or what Conrad eloquently called “craft.”…What emerges then across writings aboutopen ocean sea-faring, is a kind of romance of the real, a romance with labor and practice. Romantic poets will devise figures of the sublime to represent the extravagant aspects of this frontier zone, though critics often fail to notice how a delineation of the sublime is inseparable from questions of labor in Romanticism, ignoring the representation of work in a move akin to the erasures of Orientalism.

Co-sponsored by the Literature Department